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Sanders chalks up Sinema’s decision to become independent to ‘political aspirations’

<i>Alex Wong/Getty Images</i><br/>Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Sunday that “political aspirations” drove Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s exit from the Democratic Party.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Sunday that “political aspirations” drove Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s exit from the Democratic Party.

By Paul LeBlanc and Daniella Diaz, CNN

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Sunday that “political aspirations” drove Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s exit from the Democratic Party, as he vowed to take a “hard look” at supporting a potential Democratic challenge to her in Arizona.

“She has her reasons. I happen to suspect that it’s probably a lot to do with politics back in Arizona. I think the Democrats are not all that enthusiastic about somebody who helps sabotage some of the most important legislation that protects the interests of working families and voting rights and so forth,” Sanders told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

“So I think it really has to do with her political aspirations for the future in Arizona, but for us, I think, nothing much has changed in terms of the functioning of the US Senate,” the Vermont progressive added.

Sinema announced last week she was leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent, a move that is unlikely to change the power balance in the next Senate. Democrats will have a narrow 51-49 majority that includes two independents who caucus with them: Sanders and Angus King of Maine.

She is up for reelection in 2024 and liberals in Arizona are already floating potential challengers, including Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who said earlier this year that some Democratic senators have urged him to run against Sinema.

“I’ve registered as an Arizona independent. I know some people might be a little bit surprised by this, but actually, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Sinema said in an interview last week with CNN’s Jake Tapper last week in her Senate office.

“I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she added. “Removing myself from the partisan structure — not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”

Asked Sunday whether he would support a potential Democratic challenge to Sinema, Sanders said, “I support progressive candidates all over this country, people who have the guts to take on powerful special interests.”

“I don’t know what is going to be happening in Arizona. We’ll see who they nominate but certainly that’s something that I will take a hard look at.”

Sinema had declined to address questions about her reelection bid in her interview with Tapper, saying that simply isn’t her focus right now. She also brushed aside criticism she may face for the decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“I’m just not worried about folks who may not like this approach,” she said. “What I am worried about is continuing to do what’s right for my state. And there are folks who certainly don’t like my approach, we hear about it a lot. But the proof is in the pudding.”

This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.

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CNN’s Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.

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